We’ve all had those moments in relationships when our partner’s idiosyncrasies just aren’t cute or endearing.
In fact, they’re irritating.
This could mean anything from the way they always use the last of the milk without warning, to leaving the toilet seat up every chance they get, or scrolling through social media at dinner.
In my case, my boyfriend recently told me that he’d rather I didn’t leave the bathroom countertop looking like “Niagara Falls had just crashed down on it” during my pre-bed bathroom routine. (In my defence, my contacts are usually out at this point, making it difficult to see the counter in the first place).
Ok. Thanks for telling me?
In all seriousness, though, I’m glad he did. At first, I found the comment petty and a little annoying, especially because the relationship is relatively new. But, in reflection, I think that relationships actually improve thanks to these seemingly insignificant disclosures. Rather than remaining silent and risking potential flare-ups that could result from petty squabbles, it’s probably better to address these little things as they arise.
The alternative is the dreaded silent compromise, something we should all be aware of. A silent compromise is when one partner suppresses their feelings, concerned that communicating the truth might jeopardize their relationship’s equilibrium.
Unfortunately, instead of avoiding conflict, these minor concessions often fester over time and balloon into major arguments that could have been avoided.
Most of us have been there.
The silent compromise typically involves one of two things: you either adapt an “it’s fine” mentality and pretend that everything is cool, or you fight when all those build up annoyances finally surface. The longer my boyfriend “suffered in silence” over the wet countertop, the more he would likely start to resent me for it.
Wouldn’t the relationship just devolve into a barrage of constant criticism, one may wonder? The last thing I advocate is a relationship full of bickering or nit-picking. It isn’t about that. The countertop issue was actually conveyed in the most loving of ways – “I noticed you’re a very enthusiastic hand-washer, baby,” he said. “I just wanted to check-in about that…”
This notion of “checking in” is one of the healthiest parts of our relationship, and something we agreed to do very early on. It involves a frequent open and honest dialogue about our thoughts, feelings, and potential grievances in the relationship, as itty-bitty as they may be.
The key is in the intention of communication: no one wants a manipulative partner who’s hell-bent on crafting some co-dependent ideal. Sometimes, there’s a fine line between constructive communication and condescension. I get that; trust me.
By this point in our lives, every young professional has some sort of baggage and ingrained habits. It’s our job to figure out how to deal with those things in our partner without making them into a contortionist. We need to facilitate intimacy through these conversations rather than criticize. By working out these little kinks, you’ll actually grow closer together.
Both partners play a role in this, of course. Although it’s not always easy to recognize and address, many of us are living in avoidance of our own little issues. Therefore, we almost expect our partners to conform to our imperfections.
Being able to identify our own faults and articulate them makes it easier not to take your partner’s minor annoyances with you personally. I will fully admit that my boyfriend is tidier and more domestic than I am. And for the most part, that’s totally OK with him. It even gives him material to (lovingly) tease me with as he is making me a dinner that I could never create myself.
But the countertop thing got on his nerves, so he let me know. He gets that letting your partner know about something bothersome should be part of every day life. Sometimes, the build-up and subsequent explosions of these “petty issues” can have more serious ramifications than larger, more serious relationship stress.
For the record, he’s found the countertops dry ever since.